A phoenix analogy would be appropriate here.
When China Village first started serving incendiary, complex Sichuan food more than a decade ago, Bay Area food obsessives locked on to the restaurant. Then came a 2012 fire, followed by a 15-month closure.
Two weeks ago, owner John Yao finally reopened the restaurant. The dining room looks more dignified, in handsome gray garb, but the menu is largely unchanged.
A bear hug from eager East Bay diners has the staff struggling to breathe. The food, however? Worthy of the affection.
As always, the cold plates are as entertaining as the mains, what with the thrum of garlic animating spicy bacon-cut pork ($6), for instance, or the tingly Sichuan-peppercorn dressing on Flower-Cut Pork Kidney ($7) tossed with Chinese celery, scallions and cilantro.
The water-boiled fish fillet ($13) has lost some of its scorching power since we first tasted it in 2003, but has retained the layering of its spicing and the satiny texture of the flounder.
Chile heat is not the dominant spice in every dish. Wok-charred cabbage ($10) is simply splashed with brown rice vinegar, and the crimson oil covering a clay-pot duck ($17), sweetened with beer and scented with star anise, offers more fragrance than fire.
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